Publication 3100

Emmeche C. (1998) Defining life as a semiotic phenomenon. Cybernetics & Human Knowing 5(1): 3–17. Fulltext at
The paper investigates a semiotic conception of life. As a notion or general idea of life it is seen as a member of a set of definitions bordering science proper and philosophy of nature, here called ontodefinitions. The received view of definitions in science (according to which definitions of life are virtually non-existent or meaningless to pursue) is criticised, and the semiotic notion of life is related to the emergent character of a simple living system. Defining life as biosemiotic processes seems to imply the emergence of functionality as a kind of “biological meaning” in the physical world. The relevance of definitions is context-dependent, and one such context is Artificial Life (AL) research. A “strong version” of Artificial Life claims it possible to synthesize and thus realize life computationally or by other means. If life should be defined in terms of semiotic processes intrinsic to nature, then semiosis must be required to take place in any system that realizes life.


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